Councils clamp down on "binge drinking hotspots"

17 April, 2014

Councils are using statistics on 999 callouts, hospital admissions and crime to ban retailers from selling alcohol in “binge-drinking hotspots”.

Islington and Camden councils in London have adopted a scheme pioneered in Cardiff, and Islington has already refused 13 licensing applications and modified two others.

Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s deputy leader, told OLN: “By getting this data to map hotspots we are using it so that public health can make applications to the licensing board when licensing applications come up.”

Whenever somebody applies for a new licence or a retailer’s licence comes up for review, public health officials can ask licensing officers to deny or restrict it based on the figures. Public health and licensing are both handled by the council, so it amounts to one department asking another to ban retailers from selling alcohol.

All they have to do is enter the store’s postcode into a database and it will reveal whether violent crime, ambulance call-outs and alcohol-specific hospital admissions for that area are higher than average, allowing the officers to “make a representation” on the application.

One store prevented by Islington Council from selling alcohol was Sainsbury’s in Clerkenwell, where neighbours complained of clubbers preloading, while King’s Cross and Old Street are among other areas affected.

Islington has also brought in a Reducing the Strength scheme, which asks retailers to strip shelves of beer and cider above 6.5% abv.

Burgess told OLN that last year the council realised it was topping national league tables it “would rather not be” by having the highest number of alcohol- related hospital admissions and spiralling levels of alcohol- fuelled crime.

The council held a summit in August and was impressed by a presentation from a doctor in Cardiff who was responsible for rebuilding people’s faces after they had been glassed or bottled in nightclub fights.

He analysed which areas in Cardiff received the most call outs due to alcohol-related illness and crime and worked with licensing officers to limit licences in those areas to prevent preloading.

“In the areas Cardiff targeted alcohol-related crime has not risen in line with the national average, it has been capped,” said Burgess.

“I would recommend this to other councils.

“We are saturated with off-licences and it can become a race to the bottom – ‘my neighbour has a 24-hour licence so I want one’ and so on.

“Going after existing licences is quite difficult, but we are looking at them when they renew their licences.

“We would only take the licence away if they were breaking the law, for example selling to underage people, but we will be imposing different conditions on licences.”

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